Parents want schools to reopen when it’s safe

BLAC members protesting alongside Robert Sobukwe Road against the return of Grades Rs, 6 and 11 learners to school. Photo supplied

A group of parents and community activists in Bishop Lavis and Khayelitsha have reiterated their position that learners should only go back to school when the curve has flattened as schools in poor areas are not going to be able to cope with teaching and learning under covid-19 conditions. On Thursday last week, Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, announced that Grades R, 6 and 11 will return to school today, 6 July, and that if schools are able to bring more grades they can do so.

On Monday, parents from Bishop Lavis under the banner of Bishop Lavis Action Committee (BLAC) protested alongside Robert Sobukwe Road to highlight that it is not safe for schools to re-open.

“We were protesting today because we don’t think that the schools are safe and we want the learners to only return when the curve has been flattened. It does not make sense to us that Grade R’s are made to go to school when they do not understand what a virus is. They will exchange the masks and infect each other,” said Amanda Davids, the spokesperson for BLAC. On the 1st of June when Grades 7 and 12 were supposed to return to school, parents and activists in Bishop Lavis protested outside Bergville Primary and John Ramsay High School. Some parents told Elitsha that they would rather let their children lose a year than for them to be killed by covid-19.

Around the same time, parents and activists were closing down schools in Khayelitsha as they felt they were unsafe and that the schools were not deep cleaned. Other concerns included the lack of social distancing, availability of space and substitute teachers.

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“We are concerned that with the return of other grades this week that the schools in the township won’t have space to accommodate all the learners. If one class is divided into three classes, where will the schools get a space and furniture for all the classes when more grades come back to school? When we were closing schools we were told that it takes up to 3 hours to screen the Grade 12 learners…. Now you are bringing more learners and that means more time,” said Mabhelandile Twani, one of the protest leaders.

Parents closing schools in Khayelitsha on the 15th of June. Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Another education stakeholder in Khayelitsha, the Khayelitsha Education Forum, has questioned the legitimacy of the parents who went around closing schools. The closure of schools and their state of readiness, according to KEF secretary, Haido Mteto, was raised at a meeting with school governing bodies and principals.

Mteto said that they believe the group of “so-called parents” who were closing down schools never visited any of the schools before claiming that they were not ready to reopen. He says that KEF was part of inspections of the schools and conducted an audit of conditions of learning under covid-19, leading to the official decision to continue with the reopening of schools and preparing for the return of other learners.

“In terms of the South African Schools Governing Body Act, a legitimate parent is one who has a registered child at the school… the SGB chairperson refuted the group’s claim as concerned parents [saying that] they have no children at the school and noted that principals reported they had personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, sanitisers, and that social distancing would be observed in the classrooms, and that is why they didn’t see a need to close schools,” said the KEF Secretary.

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This is despite Mteto’s assertion earlier in June that they do not believe that the Western Cape Education Department had plans to deal with issues faced by Khayelitsha schools under covid-19. Asked about this, Mteto said that their constituency – the SGBs and principals – said that the schools are ready and should take more grades as they have devised other measures to accommodate the learners.

In a virtual press briefing by the Department of Basic Education, the Western Cape Education MEC, Debbie Schäfer, said that there is no evidence of spread of covid-19 within schools and that just under two-thirds of the schools in the province have not reported cases. Schäfer further said that there were 20 schools that were closed due to community protests.

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